Much debate surrounds the biblical commands to evangelize and disciple. Unfortunately, many drift to one side of the spectrum or the other, leaving an unhealthy imbalance. On one hand, a particular church emphasizes evangelism to the neglect of discipleship. The lack of discipleship will inevitably lead to a spiritually anorexic, toxic, and disappointed family of God. On the other hand, the church who trivializes evangelistic efforts and endeavors will soon face stagnation, legalistic tendencies, and no growth.
Coupled in with these few depictions of philosophies are the overwhelmingly brutal comments, attacks, misrepresentations, and presuppositions about each other. Fighting, arguing, and bickering will only cause us to self-implode, while a lost and depraved world enjoys the show.
Two main concerns surface throughout this debate: False Conversions & Manipulation. As a result, some refuse to extend an invitation or urge people to surrender to Christ for fear of manipulating a person, while others negatively criticizes those who do. Many are concerned about the large number of individuals who attend church and are not true, born-again believers and rightfully so. This is a concern. The solution; however, centers on understanding, learning from, and implementing four areas of Jesus’ ministry. The solution is not eliminating evangelism or verbally murdering your brothers and sisters in Christ. The key is balance, not imbalance. So, let’s briefly discuss these four areas of the ministry of Jesus.
(1) Jesus experienced false conversions in His ministry.
Jesus called His disciples to follow Him. They followed Him. Similarly today, many decide to follow Christ whether in a church service, at home, work, or somewhere else. They seem to have answered the call but later they, or you, realize that they are still lost. The same situation happened to Jesus in His ministry. Judas claimed he was an authentic follower of Christ but later revealed otherwise. The only difference is that God knew, while we will not know, nor can we know, at the time someone surrenders to Christ.
Although we lack the knowledge of knowing for sure if someone was saved, the proper response is to rejoice, pray, and walk alongside of this person. Pretty simple…right?
Regardless of the strategy, intentions, or manner by which anyone leads someone to Jesus, we will never possess a 100% safeguard against any person claiming, deciding, or supposedly trusting in Christ then later realizing that person was not truly saved. It’s going to happen in all of our churches. All should desire for every decision to be authentic. No one desires for people to make a false profession of faith. Think of this though. False conversions are not the point nor should they be the center of our conversations. I’ll explain this in more detail below but let’s look at the second lesson from Jesus’ ministry.
(2) Jesus never manipulated people into following Him.
Jesus presented a clear understanding of what it takes to follow Him. No tricks, gimmicks, or any other type of manipulation ever occurred in His evangelistic conversations. Although Jesus conducted His efforts with utmost integrity, faithfulness, and fullness, Judas, along with others, still falsely claimed to possess something they obviously didn’t have.
Many automatically assume, when hearing of an individual coming to Christ, that he/she has been tricked or manipulated into salvation. For some, criticism is the first thing that comes to mind when a person trusts in Christ? Really? If your theology doesn’t allow you to rejoice over a sinner coming to know Christ, change your theology. Don’t assume that every person who makes a profession of faith will end up rejecting the faith. Have you ever thought how discouraging that is to a new believer to hear rants and rejections of what God just did in his/her life? Furthermore, think of the large number of people who have entered into a relationship with Christ during a revival meeting, church service, or when someone shared the gospel with them.
Like I mentioned above, there will always be those who say they trusted in Christ but truly have not been changed. We will never be able to completely prevent this from ever happening. If your church is telling people about Jesus, let me assure you it will happen. Criticizing others for sharing the gospel, extending an invitation, leading someone to Christ through a prayer, and pleading with people, like the Apostle Paul, is not the solution.
Think about this. If I were to say to you, “I just shared the gospel with John but he rejected the message altogether.” Your response would be something similar to this, “Eric, you were faithful. You are the messenger, therefore, you were obedient. Just leave the results to God.” And…you would be correct. However, if this is true, then what happens when the conversation goes like this, “I shared the gospel last year with Mike and I thought he truly trusted in Christ, but there has been no change in his life. He still does the same thing over and over again with no sense of remorse or repentance.” Guess what? We still have to trust God with the results. We must continue to pour into Mike.
Eliminating our evangelistic efforts, based on a particular population who was misguided or failed to be discipled will only lead to unbiblical practices. For example, since some have abused or grossly mishandled the sinners prayer, some churches disbanded the prayer altogether. The issue does not rest with methodology but in our explanation. We must explain what we mean about the gospel, the prayer, and discipleship. Explanation, explanation, explanation! Much of this debate would disappear if we would focus our intentions on faithfully explaining to people and our churches what the gospel details, along with the expectations of an authentic believer.
What is the solution to these problems? We find this solution with the last two areas concerning the ministry of Jesus.
(3) Jesus presented a clear and direct gospel presentation.
All throughout the gospels, Jesus clearly and directly proclaimed the cost of following Him. The gospel message was plain, clear, yet not watered-down. Likewise, we must collectively provide people with a comprehensive gospel message. Who made the world? When did sin enter the world? Why did Jesus die for my sins? Why was He buried? What was the purpose of the resurrection? How can someone be saved? All these questions and more should saturate not only our preaching but personal evangelistic encounters. Please hear what I am NOT saying. If you do not have time to provide a comprehensive gospel message to someone, then give them as much of Jesus as you can. More times than not though, the Lord provides us with ample time to present a full, life-changing message of Jesus to the lost.
The answer to bad evangelism, or poor methodological evangelism attempts, isn’t less evangelism…it’s more! Get the word out about the gospel! Stop being afraid! Be responsible with the gospel message and share it! Don’t water it down or attempt to manipulate people to just saying a prayer. Give them Jesus. Although I am sure some have used poor judgment in attempt to coerce someone to say a prayer, the majority of us evangelists, pastors, and laity do not practice such gimmicks but are accused of it every day.
Having a clear, detailed gospel presentation that surrounds your ministry and people is part of the answer to helping with false conversions and manipulation. However, one more area from Jesus’ ministry deserves attention.
(4) Jesus illustrated in-depth discipleship practices.
Jesus cared not only about a person being born-again but about his/her faithful execution of His teachings. On a practical level, the goal of salvation seeks to drive a person as far into Christ Jesus as possible, on this side of heaven. In addition, the new believer who grows in his/her faith, proclaims the gospel message, and begins to disciple other new believers, truly understands the gospel.
Too often, churches that do actively pursue evangelism celebrate with new believers upon their professions of faith and then leave them to grow by themselves. This is unacceptable. Churches must develop a clear and in-depth plan of discipleship for new believers. Let me suggest a basic yet effective approach. (1) A new believer plugs into a small group in your church where one or more people will begin to build a lasting friendship with the new Christ-follower. (2) Someone of the same gender, but older in their spiritual journey, begins to mentor and disciple the new believer. Much progress and growth will occur if this is implemented in our churches.
We try to make this stuff so hard and it’s really simple. Stop with the accusations. Stop with the presuppositions. Stop with the unhealthy views about evangelism. Stop with the unhealthy views about evangelists. Stop with the unhealthy views when you hear of someone trusting in Christ. Start rejoicing when you hear of people trusting in Christ. Start praying for new believers when you hear of them coming to know Christ. Start developing a clear, direct, loving, and deep gospel presentation for your church and personal evangelism efforts. Start providing your church with a clear, in-depth discipleship plan. Start building the unity of the SBC again. Start encouraging rather than discouraging. Start sharing the gospel yourself. Start discipling someone yourself. 3…2…1…LET’S GO!